Lauwersmeer National Park

The Lauwersmeer National Park, located in the provinces of Groningen and Friesland in the Netherlands, encompasses the southern and eastern portions of the Lauwersmeer, formerly known as Lauwerszee and in Dutch as: Nationaal Park Lauwersmeer.

In 1969, the Lauwers Sea was isolated and separated from the Wadden Sea around May 25, since then known as Lauwersmeer.

Over time, the Lauwersmeer transformed into a freshwater lake, leading to new flora and fauna. To preserve this developing natural area, the decision was made on November 12, 2003, to designate Lauwersmeer as a national park.

History of Lauwersmeer National Park

May 25, 1969, marks a crucial milestone in the history of Lauwersmeer National Park, when the Lauwers Sea was closed off and separated from the Wadden Sea. From that moment, the area became known as Lauwersmeer.

Lauwersmeer National Park

With the closure, the Lauwersmeer gradually transformed into a freshwater lake, leading to the emergence of new species of flora and fauna. This unique evolution and the need to protect this young natural area led to the designation of Lauwersmeer as a national park on November 12, 2003.

How to get to Lauwersmeer

You can reach Lauwersmeer by car, taking the N361 road that loops halfway around the park in a northern direction. Along the way, you will find several parking spaces where you can park your car and then explore the park on foot or engage in activities like surfing or canoeing.

Below are some distances from various cities to Lauwersmeer National Park (Lauwersoog in Groningen and Oostmahorn in Friesland):

  • From Groningen:
    • Lauwersoog: 42 km / 42 min
    • Oostmahorn: 45 km / 47 min
  • From Leeuwarden:
    • Lauwersoog: 44 km / 38 min
    • Oostmahorn: 38 km / 35 min
  • From Amsterdam:
    • Lauwersoog: 195 km / 2 h 10 min
    • Oostmahorn: 190 km / 2 h
  • From Eindhoven:
    • Lauwersoog: 280 km / 3 h
    • Oostmahorn: 275 km / 2 h 55 min
  • From Rotterdam:
    • Lauwersoog: 260 km / 2 h 50 min
    • Oostmahorn: 255 km / 2 h 45 min

For those traveling by public transport, you must first head to Groningen or Leeuwarden and then take the bus. Bus line 163 from Groningen to Lauwersoog and bus line 155 from Leeuwarden to Lauwersoog are available options, with stops at some places within the national park. Bus trips take approximately an hour.

Fauna and Flora in Lauwersmeer National Park

Various species of flora can be found, such as the spotted orchid and the white Parnassia.

Walkway to observe the flora and fauna in Lauwersmeer National Park

Regarding the birds inhabiting Lauwersmeer National Park, they include the Eurasian spoonbill, the Montagu’s harrier, the bearded reedling, and the bluethroat. During winter, the area becomes a refuge for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds, such as the Eurasian wigeon, the tundra swan, and the barnacle goose.

To maintain the open and diverse landscape, in addition to common horses and cows, large herbivores like Konik horses and Highland cattle are introduced. This contributes to ecosystem management and biodiversity conservation in the park.

Recommended Excursions and Activities

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What to See and Do in Lauwersmeer National Park

In Lauwersmeer National Park in the Netherlands, you can witness the mighty gallop of Konik horses from Poland, while a bit further away, the peaceful grazing of Highland cattle from Scotland is part of the natural landscape that has endured over the years. This environment offers a haven for a variety of species, but it is especially bird lovers who will find a paradise here. Among the species that call this park home is the towering white-tailed eagle. From the numerous bird-watching stations, you can observe everything that jumps, flies, and passes through this unique environment.

Bike Routes

Throughout Lauwersmeer National Park and along the seawall, there is an extensive network of bike lanes that seems almost endless. New paths and routes are added every year, making it easy to access them by bringing your own bicycle or renting one at one of the many rental points available. And even though the wind might blow against you, the people of Groningen are used to it from a young age.

The routes along the water offer impressive views, with the magical Groningen sky above you. You can head to the Ballastplaatbos forest or Kollumerwaard to immerse yourself in nature close to freshwater. You might be fortunate enough to encounter Highland cattle or Konik horses. Be sure to follow the bike lane over Ezumakeeg or even cycle around the entire lake, like on the Rondje Lauwersmeer bike route, which covers 43 kilometers of nature with frequent stops to enjoy a drink on a terrace or taste fresh fish.

For mountain biking enthusiasts, in the Lauwersoog forests, within Lauwersmeer National Park, there is a fairly challenging MTB route. With a 20-kilometer course, this route through the former lands of Lauwerszee will surely be a technical challenge. The route consists of two-thirds unpaved paths and the rest paved roads. Additionally, at several points, sand hills have been constructed where more experienced cyclists can practice their jumping skills. Both the Het Booze Wijf restaurant and the Lauwersnest activity center, both in Lauwersoog, are convenient starting points for this adventure.

Stargazing

Stargazing in Lauwersmeer

At the Dark Sky Park Lauwersmeer, you can join a guide from the public observatory or a park ranger, or venture out on your own. These hiking trails will allow you to immerse yourself in the darkness of Lauwersmeer.

The darkest bike lane in the Netherlands takes you through Kollumerwaard, where you can observe the lights of Zoutkamp, the gas flame of Grijpskerk, and, to the southeast, the bright city of Groningen. This bike lane starts at the Kwelderweg parking lot and ends at Hooge Zuidwal, offering you a unique experience on your way back.

Enjoy the dancing lights of the harbor in Lauwersoog, where the lights of the boats and the lamps on the edge of the lock create a fascinating show at sunset. Park at Hoek van Bant and walk through the harbor while listening to the gentle splashing of the black water on both sides.

Immerse yourself in the darkness of the Ballastplaatbos forest, north of the Suyderoogh bungalow park. Be surprised by the mysteries this forest has to offer, with its dark waters and distant lights. A spooky experience, especially on windy days!

Explore the Zoutkamperril in the dark, with impressive views of the illuminated commercial area of the fishing port from Strandweg. Turn around and admire the barracks of Willem Lodewijk van Nassau and the windmills in Vierhuizen.

Enjoy a nighttime walk through Ezumazijl, in the Frisian part of Lauwersmeer. Park at the Uitkijkpunt Ezumakeeg Noord viewpoint and walk through the grasslands and dark waters while spotting the gas flame lights in Oostmahorn in the distance.

If you are on vacation in Esonstad near Oostmahorn, you don’t need to go far to experience the darkness of the night. Explore the Nije Faert near Esonstad and discover how dark the water can be in the middle of the night. Take a walk along the dike or stroll on the beach under the starlight.

Boat Trips

Lauwersoog offers the opportunity to sail in both cold and salty waters, providing a variety of experiences. You can challenge the waves of the Wadden Sea or sail quietly along the Reitdiep to Germany if you wish. You can take the helm yourself or simply relax and join one of the many available excursions.

From the ports of Lauwersoog, various excursions depart to cater to different tastes. You can board a rescue boat and experience G-forces during an exciting ride. You can also dock just before the ebb, disembark on a sandbank emerged by the retreating water, and take a walk through the Wad.

Another option is to take a harbor tour on a former buoy-laying vessel. You can also choose a photo tour through bird-filled areas, enjoying the opportunity to capture unique images of local wildlife.

For a broader experience, you can take a catamaran or water taxi to Schiermonnikoog. This car-free Wadden island is only 45 minutes by ferry from Lauwersoog. Here, you will find yourself in a paradise for hiking and biking, where each season of the year has its own distinctive charm.

Marinas

Lauwersmeer is accessible from all directions through major ports such as Reitdiep (from Groningen), Dokkumer Ee (from Friesland), and Robbengatsluis in Lauwersoog (from the Wadden Sea). Around Lauwersmeer, you will find four spacious marinas, all equipped with the necessary amenities:

  1. Dokkumer Nieuwe Zijlen
  2. Lauwersoog
  3. Oostmahorn
  4. Zoutkamp

Mooring Areas

Additionally, there are several special docks and recreational islands where you can moor (for a maximum of 3 nights) amidst nature. Enjoy the tranquility and natural beauty at these protected mooring points near the lake’s islands. It is important to avoid mooring among the reeds or on the shore. In many places, it is possible to anchor between islands with a good wind direction and suitable weather conditions.

Boat Rentals and Cruises

For those who do not have their own boat, there are rental options at various locations around Lauwersmeer:

  • Marina Lunegat, Kollum
  • Lauwersmeer Tourist Company, Oostmahorn
  • Groningen Boat Rentals, Winsum
  • Vision of Wadden, Dokkum

Canoeing

Lauwersmeer National Park is perfect for exploring by canoe, whether in the lake itself or in the narrower waters of Zoutkamperril, Dokkumerdiep, or Nieuwe Robbengat. However, it is important to be aware of closed areas. There are many options for launching a canoe, whether at the marinas, in Zoutkamperril or Dokkumer Nieuwe Zijlen, from a beach in Lauwersoog, near Suyderoogh, Oostmahorn, or in Hoek van de Bant. Additionally, there are several options for renting a canoe, just like with other boats, so it is not necessary to have your own.

Windsurfing

For those interested in windsurfing, there are four designated spots in the Lauwersmeer area. This place is known among windsurfers for its combination of shallow waters and good wind. The designated windsurfing areas are: Hoek van de Bant, Oostmahorn (where there are many fishing nets, which can make it difficult to set off), the beaches of Lauwersoog, and the beaches near Suyderoogh Nature Village. It is important to observe the signs that clearly indicate where sailing is allowed and where it is not.

Kitesurfing at Hoek van de Bant

From June 1 to October 1, Hoek van de Bant is designated as a spot for kitesurfing. This information is clearly indicated on site, both on land and in the water, with informative signs and buoys.

Swimming in the Waters of Lauwersmeer

Along the shores of Lauwersmeer, you will find several ideal spots for swimming in the lake. During hot summer days, these spots can be very crowded, offering a lively atmosphere around Lauwersmeer.

Beaches of Lauwersoog and Oostmahorn

In the northeast of the Lauwersmeer area, specifically in Lauwersoog (Nieuw Robbengat), you will find several beaches with ample parking, bathroom facilities, and various dining establishments for convenience.

There are also the beaches of Oostmahorn, located on the west side of Lauwersmeer National Park. Additionally, in Hoek van de Bant, in the northwest of the Lauwersmeer area, there is a day recreation area where you can also enjoy swimming.

Sport Fishing

Lauwersmeer National Park is a popular destination for anglers, as it provides opportunities to catch good specimens. In a tranquil and beautiful setting, anglers position themselves along the coast in designated spots to cast their lines. It is possible to catch bream, pikeperch, and perch, with bream being the easiest to catch, especially from August to mid-October.

In recent years, it has also become a popular destination for fly fishing during summer nights. Although it can be difficult to fish from the shore, you can wade into part of the lake with waders.

For those who prefer fishing from a boat, there are excellent spots in Vlinderbalg, Oude Robbegat, Oostmahorn, and Lauwersoog. Additionally, if you have or rent your own boat, there are two free ramps on Strandweg along Zoutkamperril.

Lauwersnest Activity Center

The Lauwersnest activity center serves as an ideal starting point for exploring the entire area. Inside and around this center, you will find detailed information about birds and the Dark Sky.

Emblem of Lauwersnest National Park in the Netherlands

Here you can learn about how migratory birds use Lauwersmeer as a service station on their migratory route along the eastern Atlantic. You can also discover the mysteries of the night and become an expert in darkness. From the center, you can head directly into nature, where you will find several hiking trails. Children have the opportunity to play in the natural playground, and the center also serves as a starting point for various excursions. Additionally, volunteers from Staatsbosbeheer are available to assist you on your adventure.

Opening hours are from April 1 to November 1, Wednesday to Sunday, from 11:00 to 17:00; and from November 1 to April 1, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, from 11:00 to 16:00. During school holidays (except summer), it is open from Tuesday to Sunday. Lauwersnest will be closed on December 25, 26, and 31, as well as January 1.

You can find the center at De Rug 1, Lauwersoog.

Views and Landscapes from the Watchtowers

From the various watchtowers in Lauwersmeer National Park, you can enjoy impressive views of the area, with the occasional chance of spotting birds more quickly. For example, from the De Baak tower in Middelplaat, you can observe birds such as the marsh harrier, the snipe, and the bearded reedling. Meanwhile, from the observation tower in Ballastplaatbos, there are more opportunities to spot the mighty white-tailed eagle dancing in the air.

Also, from the Reiddomp tower in Diepsterbos, a 25-meter-high observation post at the northern end of Diepsterbos, on the south side of Lauwersmeer, called De Reiddomp. From this tower, you can enjoy a spectacular view of the conservation area. On clear days, it is possible to glimpse the Wadden Sea on the horizon, a World Heritage Site, as well as the lighthouse and dunes of Schiermonnikoog National Park. In the tower, you will find binoculars for an even more detailed view. Who knows, you might even spot a sea eagle, as it is regularly seen from this tower.

Bird Watching in Lauwersmeer National Park

Migratory birds in Lauwersmeer National Park

Bird watching in Lauwersmeer National Park is an impressive experience. With nearly 30,000 birds flying overhead in a single day, the landscape is filled with life and movement. Twice a year, the area becomes a key point for bird migration. In summer, species like the golden oriole, the avocet, and the spoonbill leave, to return the following spring. During winter, thousands of geese find refuge here, while numerous migratory birds use Lauwersmeer as a stopover on their annual journey between breeding and wintering areas.

This biodiversity refuge stands out as one of the main bird-watching spots in the Netherlands. Observation points like Jaap Deensgat, Roodkeelplasje, and Ezumakeeg offer the chance to spot special bird species. Bird watchers often discover rarities in the area almost daily, and you can check current sightings online.

Staatsbosbeheer has installed bird-watching huts in several strategic locations. From these huts, you can observe the birds up close without disturbing them. Additionally, binoculars are essential for any visitor to Lauwersmeer, and if you don’t have your own, it is likely that you can use those of a bird watcher in one of these huts.

Hiking Trails in Lauwersmeer

In Lauwersmeer National Park, you can enjoy good walks as the protected area has different trails marked with colored posts, allowing you to create your own routes using the map of the area available at the Lauwersnest activity center.

Rondje Lauwersmeer, 43 km

For more experienced walkers, Rondje Lauwersmeer offers a wonderful challenge. This route will take you through the nature, culture, and history of the area, allowing you to experience the most beautiful places in the region. Use the walking intersections that are part of the trail network.

Ranger Trail Kollumeroord, 10 km

Surrounded by hundreds of birds, shrubs, and reed plains, this trail immerses you in natural beauty. More accessible in summer, you can download the instructions and follow the fun Vogelspotcast while you walk this unique route.

Experience Tour in Lauwersoog

Connects Lauwersmeer Park with the Wadden Sea, with several detours and turns available from Lauwersoog. You can explore the Wadden neighborhood, sea view points, the harbor, the water park, and much more. You can also create your own route or follow the crossings of the pedestrian network.

Marne Route, 7.5 km

This firm path takes you through Lauwersoogbos and the western part of Marnewaard.

Note: Shooting Exercises

The park borders the Marnewaard military training area on the east side. During military exercises, this area may be closed. Pay attention to the signs on site.

Activities with Children

Nature Play

At the Lauwersnest activity center, children can enjoy a challenging natural playground. Standing out in this space, both literally and figuratively, is a 5-meter-tall play object resembling a large bird’s nest. As Lauwersmeer National Park is an official Dark Sky Park, this play object reflects this feature with a Dark Sky floor showing a starry sky. Children can climb nets to reach it, and underneath the play object, they can "fly" over the area like a bird using the zip line. Additionally, there is a large pond where they can catch and study aquatic creatures, play with water, and explore various exciting water crossings.

Water Park

Near the beaches of Lauwersmeer, opposite the Het Booze Wijf restaurant parking lot, there is a water park. Here, children can experience using a dredging device to dig and transport sand, participate in construction activities with a mud table, explore a speedboat, and play with a toy fish. This space is designed for children to learn how water systems work and collaborate to make them function correctly, suitable for all ages.

Special Walks for Children

At Lauwersnest, children can enjoy several themed walks designed especially for them. For example, the "Gnome Trail" where, with a pointy hat and following a storybook, they can search for gnome tracks and perform fun tasks along a 500 to 1500 meter route. There’s also the "Bird Experience Trail," a 1.5 km route where children can search for nesting boxes, listen to bird sounds, and observe wildlife with binoculars. Additionally, the "WasWadPad" is a 4.5 km walk that teaches children about the landscape’s transformation, from marshes to forests, with play elements and interactive tasks along the way.

Perfect Earth Animals

Children can engage in an animal hunt activity using their mobile phones in the Lauwersmeer area. On Staatsbosbeheer’s blue hiking routes, digital animals are hidden that children can find using the free Perfect Earth Animals app. When approaching within 50 meters of a hidden animal card, it will automatically be added to the phone’s collection, providing fun facts about the found animals. The app is available on the App Store and Google Play.

Best Time to Visit Lauwersmeer National Park

With its freshwater and saltwater areas, and its location next to the Wadden Sea, the best time to visit Lauwersmeer National Park is during spring when the protected area comes to life with the arrival of special migratory birds. Among them are the common tern (Sterna hirundo), wood sandpiper (Tringa glareola), little gull (Hydrocoloeus minutus), black-headed gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus), ruff (Calidris pugnax), Eurasian wigeon (Mareca penelope), Eurasian curlew (Numenius arquata), bearded reedling (Panurus biarmicus), red-necked phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus), and many other species.

Regardless of the time of year you visit, Lauwersmeer National Park offers a unique nature experience that allows you to enjoy the beauty and diversity of its surroundings. However, keep in mind that winter brings cold weather.

Enjoy your trip!

Remember you can also visit the De Hoge Veluwe National Park.